Previous reports have suggested that Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Earvin “Magic” Johnson isn’t planning to fire head coach Luke Walton at any point during the 2018-19 NBA season. But as far as the team’s long-term strategy is concerned, the laid-back Walton apparently doesn’t mesh with Johnson’s old-school expectations for a head coach, as recently hinted by NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
On Saturday’s episode of ESPN’s Woj and Lowe special on YouTube, hosts Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe discussed the Lakers’ current situation, which has the team seemingly taking on a “win now” mentality by trying to acquire tried and tested veteran players to complement superstar forward LeBron James. After touching on various related subjects, such as the Lakers’ refusal to trade away their young players in most situations, Brandon Ingram being an “awkward” fit while playing alongside James, and Los Angeles’ possible free agency strategy in the summer of 2019, Wojnarowski brought up the topic of Walton’s future prospects as the team’s head coach.
“Since Magic has taken over, they had been hoping to get their own coach in at some point. We saw it play out in the meeting they had earlier in the year where Magic really went after Luke,” Wojnarowski observed, as quoted by Silver Screen and Roll.
“If they’re going to be able to go to [Lakers owner] Jeanie Buss and sell her on replacing Luke Walton, they better be trying to do it off a season where they missed the playoffs or off of a long losing streak. Because she has been fiercely loyal to Luke Walton.”
As Wojnarowski further explained, Walton was Buss’ hire “in every way,” which has driven her to prevent Johnson and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka from replacing him as the team’s head coach, while freely letting both executives make various other changes to the roster. Wojnarowski added, however, that Buss’ loyalty to Walton doesn’t change how he might not be what Johnson is looking for in the grander scheme of things.
“Magic’s view of a coach remains Pat Riley. The fiery, old-school [type of personality]. That’s his view. Luke Walton doesn’t fit the mold of what he sees in a head coach.”
As noted in his biography on the NBA website, Riley has served as the Miami Heat’s team president since 1995, having helped guide the team to three championships in his 24-season tenure. Prior to joining the Heat, Riley played for the Lakers’ 1971-72 NBA championship team and, as their head coach, led them to four NBA titles in the 1980s with Magic Johnson as his point guard.
Commenting on the possibility that Johnson isn’t sold on Walton as a long-term solution at head coach, Silver Screen and Roll opined that it’s “human nature” for bosses to look for better alternatives to employees whom they didn’t personally hire, and that LeBron James’ high-profile presence in Los Angeles made the rumors about Walton’s job security inevitable from the time he signed with the Lakers. The publication predicted that there’s still a good chance Walton will finish the 2018-19 season as Lakers head coach unless something “drastic” happens, though failure to meet expectations this season could ultimately lead to his dismissal soon after.